DC-DC chargers, Victron introduces Orion TR Smart series

I just recently developed an interest in DC-to-DC battery charging and — bada bing — Victron introduces a whole series with the “Smart” Bluetooth configuration feature I’ve greatly appreciated in two of their other power components. But DC/DC is an unfamiliar technology for me, so I’m hoping readers will help out with possible misunderstandings, though even I can detect some confusing nomenclature and product naming.

An Orion-Tr DC-DC converter is not a charger (and not "smart")
An Orion-Tr DC-DC converter is not a charger (and not “smart”)

For instance, Victron already offers numerous DC/DC products — most named Orion, and several Orion-Tr — but they are all converters, not chargers. Not surprisingly, a converter can convert voltages, like, say, 24v power to 12v to power 12v navigation electronics on a 24v boat. But there’s also a place for 12/12 or 24/24 DC/DC converters because they also condition the power, providing a steady feed regardless of voltage spikes on the supply side.

But typical DC/DC converters can not provide the three-stage battery charging that the Orion-Tr Smart series can, and I don’t know of any DC/DC charger that has the powerful but easy “Smart” Victron Connect configuration and troubleshooting abilities I wrote about last March.

Meanwhile, if I read the Orion-Tr Smart manual correctly, it can serve as a converter or a charger. Plus, if this Google Shopping search is true, the 12/12 30 amp model that might work for me only costs about $30 more than the same size Orion-Tr converter. But now we get to the part where I may be confused.

Orion-Tr Smart DC-DC charger typical setup
Orion-Tr Smart DC-DC charger typical setup

In all the Victron marketing I’ve seen so far, the main use for the Orion-Tr Smart is to charge an auxiliary (aka, house or service) battery from a starting battery. But that’s not appropriate to what most boats need, and certainly not mine.

Gizmo currently has separate 12v alternators for start and house banks, but I’m considering a reconfiguration where both alternators feed the ever-hungry 440ah Firefly house bank, which in turn charges the usually content starter bank. Hence I could charge the house bank faster — like at 200 amps plus if I upgrade the 20-year-old Volvo Penta start bank alternator — and I’d get redundant alternators as a bonus.



Now there are simpler ways to accomplish this battery bank-to-bank charging goal — like an Automatic Charging Relay (ACR) — but I’m recently inspired by Steve (SeaBits) Mitchell’s new power system and I’ve also noticed Rod (MarineHowTo) Collin’s enthusiasm for the same Sterling Power USA DC/DC chargers that Steve is using. This type of charger could really baby Gizmo’s Dekka AGM start bank, and it would also set the boat up for the significantly different characteristics of a Lithium-Ion house bank (should I ever be able to afford one).

Orion-Tr Smart 12/12-30 (12v to 12v charging or conditioning at 30a max)

But can I install an Orion-Tr Smart 12/12-30 in reverse to what Victron seems to suggest, even on their generally more casual blog? I think yes. Digging into the details, it looks to me like they fast-tracked this product line with a particular eye to newish land vehicles with “smart” regulators able, for maximum fuel efficiency, to shut power generation down completely when the starter bank is full. Which is tough in, say, an RV with an auxiliary bank.

So these DC/DC chargers include several ways to control their on/off state — including the Low/High remote switching seen above — which could work in that particular land vehicle circumstance but also when the power source is a boat bank with uninterrupted alternator charging as well as solar panel charging and maybe even a generator. I think.

Obviously I’m hoping for some feedback about the particular way I’d like to use this DC/DC charger, but please don’t hesitate with other comments about it.

PS 10/27: It’s interesting that this entry has generated so much discussion, but unfortunately some of it may misinform readers. In fact, a few comments regarding the Balmar Digital Duo Charge 12/24 are a good example of the confusing DC-to-DC nomenclature and product naming mentioned at the top of the entry, and they’re worth untangling.

The DDC-12/24 is a Solid-State Battery Combiner, not a DC-DC charger or converter

Indeed, with “Charge” in the name and “Multi Bank Charging” prominent in the product description, it’s easy for a marine power non-professional like me to presume that the DDC-12/24 is a DC-DC charger like the Victron Orion-Tr Smart and similar devices from Mastervolt, Sterling and others.

But Balmar clearly states that the DDC is a “Solid-State Battery Combiner” which puts it in the same general family as the ACR and VSR technology so well explained at Marine How To. In other words, it’s more like an “automatic, voltage triggered, BOTH/Parallel switch” than an actual DC (or AC) charger.

“12v/24v” is another confusing indication of how different these DC-DC families are. For the Victron etc. DC-DC chargers the nomenclature means that a 12v battery bank can charge a 24v bank, but for the Balmar combiner it means a 12v bank can be combined with a 12v bank, or a 24v bank with a 24v bank.



At any rate, with a combiner, all the charging gets done by the boat’s alternator (or generator, solar panels) and thus the device has little say in how much current gets passed from one battery bank to the other. I understand that a combiner, ACR, or VSR can be built and cabled to take maximum current demands, but the Balmar DDC-12/24 is purposely designed for lighter wiring — 14 gauge ground with 10 awg input/output — and it shuts itself off if the combined battery(s) asks for more than 30 amps. A true DC-DC charger doesn’t care how many amps the batteries being charged want; it supplies what it can.

I’m sure that the Balmar Digital Duo Charge is working fine on many boats, and it does include a solenoid option for those cases when 30a starter battery demands are common — see install manual — but confusing this DC “charging” technology with true chargers can lead to wrong assumptions, though hopefully they turned out to be educational.

Similar Posts:


Xtreme QuadLink, and the Victron N2K Skylla charger
July 18, 2012

Xtreme Marine, pulse charging
October 9, 2007

Understanding the Three-Stage Regulator
August 10, 2004

Victron Connect, why Bluetooth configuration can make so much sense
March 6, 2019

Ben Ellison

Ben Ellison

Panbo editor, publisher & chief bottlewasher from 4/2005 until 8/2018, and now excited to have Ben Stein as very able publisher, webmaster, and editing colleague. Panbo is going to the next level in 2019 and beyond.

61 Responses

  1. Christopher says:

    Hello Ben, when it comes to price in Europe, the price of Orion-Tr Smart 12 / 12-30A costs 268 euros without VAT. This is the official retail price as per Victron’s price list.

  2. Christopher says:

    Ben is currently implementing a large project that is also based on DC-DC chargers but Mac Plus Mastervolta.
    When charging hotel batteries from an alternator, we have a more stable voltage buffer and such chargers work very well when charging starter batteries. For safety at start-up, the output from the charger to the starter battery is automatically disconnected, I believe this is unnecessary because the charger will not supply more current for what it was designed .

    • Ben Ellison Ben Ellison says:

      Thanks again, Christopher. So while the Victron product description reads “For use in dual battery systems in vehicles or on boats where the (smart) alternator and the start battery are used to charge the service battery”, would it be correct to add something like: “Also for use in dual battery systems on boats where the alternator and service battery are used to charge the start battery”?

  3. Mark says:

    Would be interested in a comparison between the Victron & the a Mastervolt Magic 12/12-30 or Magic 24/12-30 or Magic 24/24-30. I use one of each of these. On a 24v house system. One as a charger for my 12v bank charging, one for charging my 24v windlass/thruster bank, one for providing clean power to my electronic engine controls.

    • Ben Ellison Ben Ellison says:

      Hi Mark, I don’t see a 12/12-30 anywhere in the Mastervolt DC-DC line…

      https://www.mastervolt.com/products/dc-dc-converters/

      …but the Magic 12/12-20 seems to have similar features to the Orion-Tr Smart. For instance, while also called a converter, it can also be a 3-step charger with adjustable voltage levels. However, the configuration via DIP switches and PC software sounds a lot more complex than what I’ve experienced with Victron’s “Smart” Bluetooth app, which can also update component software.

      Also, I don’t see anything about turning Magic charging on/off while the Orion-Tr Smart offers several methods. On the other hand, that may be possible via MasterBus, which may also report on operations like charging current used to MasterVolt and/or CZone monitoring. Victron apparently left networking and current monitoring out of the first generation Orion-Tr Smart series, according to their blog.

      Please note that I have zero hand’s on experience with DC-DC devices and know less about Mastervolt than Victron in general.

      • Mark Andrew says:

        The Magics do have the capability to add a simple on/off switch hardwired to the Magic, itself, and of course via MasterBus. I mis-typed…I don’t have the Magic 12/12. The dip-switch setting is awkward with the Magic…you have to remove the box from the bulkhead, remove the cover & fan, and find the dipswitch inside. Once you’ve decided if it’s going to be a charger or converter or line-conditioner, what I do is pop a label on the box with that designation so I don’t forget and have to dig into the box again to inspect the dip switch. Fortunately, you only do this once at install, then you’re done. The integration into the Masterbus network is convenient for me as my electrical system is all Masterbus & CZone (I do have a Victron Autotransformer, but that’s probably a different article for you)

  4. I confess I share your confusion as to the necessity of one of these in a same-voltage system, Ben – other than ensuring that the load bank/buss that the charger feeds will be free of the voltage excursions and other gremlins that emit from things like starter circuits and alternators (especially ones with poorly-behaved controllers). Nothing on board Atsa needs that assistance, but I can see how some consumer-grade electronics might benefit from it.
    But I surely wish the yard had put one of these in to charge my 24V bow thruster bank instead of the 115V unit they used. Yes, I can charge the bow thruster underway by running the inverter, but that’s a kludge (IMHO).

    • Mark Andrew says:

      I have a Kobelt electronic engine controller to operate my “old” analog Caterpillar engine. It’s basically a motherboard & CanBus system operating levers to work my engine’s gear and throttle. Because of the electronics involved, and the critical nature of it’s function, I use a 24v/24v conditioner to clean the power feed to the Kobelt engine control.

  5. Colin A says:

    There are a number of situations where these are useful. As mentioned in the article in the EU and AUS, these have become a big deal thanks to the RV (caravan) market. Charging the battery in a towed trailer or a van camper house bank, while maintaining the factory charging system on the drive train.
    On a boat, there are also plenty of uses. As some one mentioned it allows you to have a separate thruster bank or electronics bank or what ever else bank you may want separate from the main bank, and be able to charge from the main bank with reasonably small conductors vs a charge relay. The Echo charge is one way this is done now but, that doesn’t help if you mix chemistries.
    You also have boats with factory warranty and a smaller alternator this would allow you to get multi stage charging without cutting into the factory harness.
    Long term you may also see some thanks to electric propulsion, right now some Bass boats use DC to DC chargers to charge 24V trolling motor batteries from 12V out boards, in the future you may have a 48VDC generator charging a inverter and propulsion bank, with a DC to DC charger taped off to a bank for electronics and other 12v loads, thereby allowing a back up that might not be available with converters.

  6. Grant Jenkins says:

    Ben, I’m not sure why you don’t just opt for the same Sterling power units that Steve Mitchell discussed in his recent post. I think he did an excellent job explaining why he chose that route, and it makes a lot of sense. DC-DC converters have been around awhile, but the technology to configure them as a multi-stage “smart” charger is something new, as you pointed out. It seems the Sterling option is intended for your (marine) configuration, while the Victron was designed with something else (RV’s?) in mind. I also fail to see the need for any kind of a switch in your application, as the whole point of for the unit to intelligently manage the charging current to the auxiliary bank, without depending on manual switching intervention – isn’t it? Perhaps it will function correctly, but I’m personally a little leery using blog posts in lieu of formal factory support to determine a new products capabilities…
    To me, the value of investing in this type of onboard charging is in direct proportion to the value of your start or other auxiliary battery banks. If we’re talking a single Group 27 FLA start battery, that’s maybe $100. A simple ACR will take care of that underway, albeit at a non-adjustable profile. But you can still charge it correctly at the dock using a traditional charger, where most boats spend the vast majority of their time. On the other hand, if you have multiple banks of different and expensive technologies (like Steve’s), the programmable DC-DC charger makes a lot of sense.
    I like Victron, and the phone app is always cool to play around with, but really, how much do you need to know? Personally I’d be inclined to go with the Sterling product, if you want something now…

  7. Ben,

    I think your approach would work very well.

    What I would do is make sure the charger isn’t charging when your boat is not under engine. Otherwise, the charger would keep the engine battery at float, which is excellent for the engine battery but will run down your house set.

    As to Mastervolt vs Victron — both work very well but Mastervolt works the best if you use an all-Masterbus setup. To do things that go beyond the dip-switches, you need a PC interface and a Windows POC. Using their Windows PC program you can program all these things and set things like voltages, curves, and when to stop etc. You can create “triggers” that make one device do something when another device encounters a particular situation. It is extremely flexible and works very well, but … it requires all-mastervolt devices or you interface them using Masterbus external relay boxes.

    The Victron approach is more discontinuous, and have different buses depending on the price level and complexity of the device. The advent of Bluetooth (their Smart devices) means that you can have a very cost-effective device that still has loads of configuration smarts and is easier to install.

    Finally, Victron works very well with open source solutions like Signal K and is to be commended for that as well. Mastervolt is playing catch-up here. They do have a closed-source API.

    • Per says:

      Hi Kees,

      While I really like Victron products (have several installed and more in plans 🙂 ) and got into the Victron brand very much due to it’s (back then) friendly opensource mind, with a github account with plenty of resources. When bluetooth was added Victron left the opensource path though… there is simply no way for us DIY to interact with Victron devices on bluetooth protocol level. So I’m sorry to say you cannot drive the argument about competitors closed-source API too hard.
      Having said that, I would very much appretiate be proven wrong and you point me to some recent changes here 😉

      • Ben Ellison Ben Ellison says:

        But, Per, the Victron Connect Bluetooth app is mainly for configuring and/or updating one device at a time, not networking, and many of the same devices use other protocols for networking that remain open source.

        • Per says:

          Ut is actually used at Victron for networking as well. I have for example the battery monitor BMV-712 and the solar charger connected via BT. This way, the solar charger gets battery temp from the BMV-712. Air is a perfekt isolator so having that as link at network level is a good thing. Also, for designing redundant setups it can ease a lot. I have two small “servers” in my boat that backup each other. If I could get data via BT, wifi or so directly from the solar charger, battery monitor etc there would be less singel point of failure.

  8. Dan Corcoran Dan Corcoran says:

    Can you connect the on/off to your engine key? This way you assured it is turned off each time the engine is stopped. That is how I installed the Balmar Duo DC-DC Charger a few weeks back.

  9. Dan Corcoran Dan Corcoran says:

    Note to readers of this thread, if you take the output of your alternator to the house battery and rely only on your starter battery being charged at the dock with a shore charger, you may be in for a surprise as I was when you take a multi day cruise. I took my sailboat on a five day cruise and unexpectedly discharged my starter battery as the engine panel and sensors drew about 1 Amp whenever the engine was running, Over a period of 30+ hours, the – 30Ahr was enough to prevent the battery from having enough umf to start the engine on the last mile of the trip home. I have since added a DC-DC charger to keep the starter battery topped off when the engine is running.

  10. Per says:

    One neat application for a DC/DC charger could also be to charge some exteral/mobile battery bank. Say the battery to our beloved dinghy’s electric outboard? Then it is very nice to be able to have a charge pod near the stern to lift up the battery to, flip the remote control switch and enable the charging. When battery is not on the charging pod, flip the DC/DC charger off so that it’s (probably small) idle load isn’t slowly removing energy from the house bank.
    Haven’t checked though if that is the function of the remote switch…

  11. Dan Corcoran Dan Corcoran says:

    A question for Victron. When using batteries that accept a large charging current (e.g. FireFly, TPPL, LiION, etc.) beyond the 30Amp rating of your product, is there a point (max current draw for example) at which your product will automatically shut-down and then not charge the connected battery?

    Is there a 12/12-18 version with Bluetooth? What is the point at which your product will automatically shut-down and then not charge the connected battery?

    • A battery charger will charge at (up to) the current that it is designed to output. If the acceptance rate is higher it will just charge at the rate that the charger can provide. It will just take longer for the battery to get full.

      With Lithium, a low charge rate is not harmful. You could charge lithium at 0.01 C (and charge it in 100 hours.)
      With lead/acid batteries you want to make sure that the charge rate is at least 0.1C during the bulk phase so that it’s not taking too long to charge. If you charge too slowly this may induce premature sulphation.
      (A popular way to charge batteries slowly is with solar panels….)

      • Dan Corcoran Dan Corcoran says:

        Not necessarily. The Balmar Duo Charger (12v -12v charger that competes with this Victron) for example will shut off immediately if it detects demand for more than 15 amps of power, then leaving the auxillary battery uncharged. A Balmar technician explained that this a “feature” intended to protect the boat, but unhelpful if the connected battery is simply capable of accepting > 15A.

        • I’m thinking that a battery combiner might make a LOT more sense here rather than a DC-DC (12V – 12V) charger, especially if they behave in that fashion! Almost all modern batteries will demand a fair amount of current initially, even a G24 or G31 start battery. I would want the charger to just current limit to keep everything within its limitations and charge the battery as fast as it can.

        • Ben Ellison Ben Ellison says:

          That sounds like a very odd feature, Dan, and this is the first I’ve heard of any charger shutting down like that. What Kees describes is the norm.

          Also unacceptable to me would be a 4a charger for the battery bank starting my 450 hp Volvo Penta, and I would certainly never limit starter battery charging to shore power. Also, Victron has numerous Orion-Tr Smart models, which I linked to in the entry. Here is the data sheet:

          https://www.victronenergy.com/upload/documents/Datasheet-Orion-Tr-Smart-DC-DC-chargers-isolated-250-400W-EN.pdf

          • Dan Corcoran Dan Corcoran says:

            I verified that 15A feature/limitation with Balmar last month. In addition, after it shuts down, it tries again repeatedly. So a battery that is discharged enough to accept say 20A, won’t be charged at all.

            In the Victron spec you linked to it lists “60A short circuit output current”. Does it continue to put out 60A if a battery can accept that much or more? Is that the point where the power source could be destroyed (if not fused). Auto shut down? What else could that mean?

          • Ben Ellison Ben Ellison says:

            Geez, Dan, I see zero reason to presume that Victron, Mastervolt, Sterling or any other DC-DC charger does what your Balmar supposedly does, and I suspect that “Short circuit output current” is exactly what it says, max current if you short the output cables. Note that there is an actual Orion-Tr Smart “shut down” condition — when the source batteries get to 7v — and that’s probably similar for all these chargers.

            Also, I can’t find your Balmar 12/12 Duo Charger anywhere, just the DDC 12/24:

            http://www.balmar.net/products/digital-duo-charge/

            And its manual describes how it can trigger a solenoid connection between the battery banks if the charging need exceeds 30 amps. So it seems like you’re not fully describing the Balmar “feature” or are confused about it. Please stop with your Victron presumption.

        • The Duo Charge is solely designed, and useful to charge a starting battery from a house bank. It has several differences from a VSR.
          1. It is limited to 30a, 15a continuous. When these limits are reached, It does NOT just shut down, It opens, tests and then shuts down. In the middle, there is some charge flow. So the charging current is severely limited, but some still does get through.
          2. By limiting the current, It does not require “Full Sized” cabling, simplifying installation.
          3. You can set the battery type, and even customize the start and stop voltages, allowing even the mixing of battery chemistries.

          It is a much smaller device than most DC-DC chargers, an important consideration for many installations.

          Chris (From Balmar)

  12. Dan Corcoran Dan Corcoran says:

    30A is a quite a bit overkill for the marine industry.

    When used in the reverse method from what the diagram shows (e.g. Victron used to charge the starter battery from the house) only 3A or even 2A is needed to top off a type 34 starter battery.

    Ideally, a less powerful/less expensive version of this product would be a better match for the marine industry.

    • Per says:

      For charging a starter battery, yes. But what about charging other batteries? Like the dinghy battery?

      • Dan Corcoran Dan Corcoran says:

        I don’t see how this will benefit Dinghy batteries. If it was to put this doubt aside, I would say that for Dinghy batteries, like the torqeedo, the 12v charging cable has a 4A fuse so a 30A charger would be overkill (presumably, 12v cable is to use the charger built into the torqeedo, you probably cannot connect a dinghy battery to a standard 12v charger). Torqeedo offers faster specialty chargers that have limits of 10A, to charge a 31Ahr battery in “4 hours”. Again 30A is overkill, but I don’t think it even applies. The Faster chargers offered for the Dinghy battery are designed to go right to your existing charging system or inverter, so no Victron or other charger would make sense to be inserted between it and your current dinghy batteries.

        • Per says:

          Think broad, not all have a Torqeedo. For us that have a 12v battery that we hook up to the outboard?

          • Dan Corcoran Dan Corcoran says:

            When I think broad, I think dinghy batteries are inefficient at 12v and don’t exist. Batteries to turn electric motors are higher voltages and require a specialty charger matched to the battery either built into the dinghy motor (so it can take a 12v input, but very slowly like 2-3A) or an external battery charger that would make a Victron Energy or other 12v-12v charger superfluous, yes?

        • Hi Dan – I suspect that those who carry a 12V battery to use with a trolling motor might be a subject here. Also an outboard starting battery, tho I suspect most of those are small enuff they wouldn’t take 30a for very long (if ever).

    • Colin A says:

      Depending on how the Engine is set up on larger diesel and gas engines the ECM and other on engine equipment can draw a couple amps. Something to be mindful of. Some also really don’t like low voltage. I think most people will feel more comfortable with a larger amp capacity. But there may be a market for less, but it would be a tough sell to the average consumer. Most of which will think of how long they have to leave their car idling after it had a dead battery to get it to the point will it will restart again, after shutting off. Also in the marine world you have lot’s of boats sitting for a long time, added amperage after a cold start can be helpful after the battery has started to self discharge.

      I was recently playing with a meter on a V8 engine, On average the starter battery was seeing 2-3 amps as you mentioned, but it did run at 10-15 amps for a couple minutes after starting.

      • Ben Ellison Ben Ellison says:

        Or when you get air in the fuel system during a filter change and have to crank it a lot. I want some charging amperage available (and a manual crossover switch too, just in case) but I also want the charger to treat the start batteries nicely. I’m not sure that’s true of the 20 year old alternator that came standard on my diesel.

      • Dan Corcoran Dan Corcoran says:

        If an argument can be made for 2-3 Amps being too low. How about 5 or 8 Amps?

        As a racing sailboat, the 3 lbs for this 30A version is obscene compared to other options like the Sterling (0.40 lb), Balmar Duo (1 lb), or an ACR (bluesea = 0.80 lb).

        • Ben Ellison Ben Ellison says:

          That seems rather sad. Do you and your crew sweat off pounds before a race like wrestlers making their weight class?

        • Dumping the house battery and all electrical cable would make more sense then, do you realize what copper weighs!

          In fact, why have an engine at all if you are a racer? Put two light weight oars on board and Bob’s your uncle!

          Here, I just saved you 300 to 500 kg!

          • Dan Corcoran Dan Corcoran says:

            No such luck Kees. Rule 4.1, Standard factory supplied equipment, shall be maintained and will not be removed, relocated, or altered when racing. (Diesel engines are required. Fuel and dc-dc chargers are however optional)

            All jesting aside, I am pretty knowledgeable in this area, plus I carefully considered the selection and installation of a DC-DC converter for my 35 foot sailboat last month. This Victron product looks really sweet. What may look like a simple device (12v in and 12v out) is actually pretty complicated to design into a boat with the limited prior choices. The Balmar Duo, Blue Sea ACR, and Sterling each have limitations the Victron appears to blow past and then adds modern bells, bluetooth, and whistles to serve the need only partially met by the preceeding products that don’t or only partially care for three stage charging and mixing battery chemistries on a boat.

            No matter its Sterling or the ACR vendors, products are available in different capacities, and I would encourage Victron to consider a version in a much smaller size. I don’t think Sterling is far off the mark with a 3A version, and a lower price version of this Victron product would make it less painful to spend money to properly protect/system engineer for a $125 or less starter battery, or a $100 or less backup battery for electronics or nav lights.

  13. Ben Ellison Ben Ellison says:

    Orion-Tr Smart switching information from the Victron web site, datasheet, and manual: It can be turned on and off with a remote manual switch, it can be turned on/off with a single wire to the engine ignition circuit, and it can be turned on/off according to the voltage of the source batteries. If I go this route I will probably try the latter, and it will be easy to fine tune with the Victron Connect app, but I also like that I can go to the ignition key mode if source voltage mode doesn’t work out.

  14. Dan Corcoran Dan Corcoran says:

    With the Balmar Duo Charge, I choose the ignition key mode as that cuts off all power to the device, avoiding the 10mA standby load that can add up over a couple of weeks. Even when the key is then engaged, the Duo won’t begin charging until the voltage goes above the threshold set by the user, so the charging does not start with the key engaging but rather when the alternator starts putting out enough juice to lift the house battery voltage over the threshold (I choose 13.3v).

    The Bluetooth App would have gotten use by me. On the Duo I had to change the thresholds many times to get it right, as the house voltage drops when the house batteries are fully charged causing the Duo to stop charging the starter battery. The engine circuits then pulled down 1A from the starter batteries, the exact problem I was looking to fix.

  15. Ben Ellison Ben Ellison says:

    Hi all, I researched Dan’s concerns about how the Victron and similar DC-DC chargers may shut down if amperage demand exceeds their capacity, like his Balmar Digital Duo Charge does. The concern is unfounded because the DDC 12/24 is a combiner, not a true charger. Readers relatively new to the confusing DC-DC world, like me, may appreciate the postscript I just added above.

    • Grant Jenkins says:

      Ben, thanks for the PS, and good catch on the Balmar product. I was wondering about that myself, as I hadn’t heard that Balmar had introduced a DC-DC charger product. As you point out, a combiner cannot apply an independent, “smart” charger profile on its output side – which I think is the whole point of your proposed project!
      I read through the Victron literature a couple of times, and it seems you could make it work. I did note, however, that the option to enable the device “according to the voltage of the source batteries” is only possible when using it in converter mode, not as a charger. (Page 12, ” … only active in charger mode and when “engine detection override” is not activated. In converter mode the “input voltage lock-out” determines when the output is active.”)
      Personally, I think the Victron documentation leaves something to be desired in terms of clarity, and the “engine detection” technology seems unnecessarily complex, compared to a simple, solid state voltage-sensitive relay. Or perhaps I just don’t appreciate all its capabilities. If you can figure out a way to configure it to automatically combine and intelligently charge your start bank, without manual intervention, whenever any charging source is available on the house bank, and isolate them when charging is unavailable, then I’d say you’ve found a winner. And I’m pretty sure that’s exactly what Steve Mitchell achieved on his boat recently with the Sterling unit – in fact I’m surprised he hasn’t chimed in on this yet…

      • Ben Ellison Ben Ellison says:

        Thanks for digging deeper than I have, Grant. I agree about the documentation, and think it may be aimed primarily at the “caravan” market. But I will get to question Victron face-to-face at METS in a few weeks, and your research will help.

  16. Luis Soltero Luis Soltero says:

    Hi Ben,

    I have had the setup you are proposing on all my boats for 30 years now. I usually configure my boats (including bliss) with one huge battery bank and have the alternator(s) charge this one bank. The start battery is maintained with a xantrex echo charger. Like I say this arrangement has worked well for me for 30 years…

    On Bliss I have 2 echo chargers. One that maintains the starter and one that maintains the windlass/blowthruster battery. For the thruster battery I also have a 500 amp blueseas smart switch on the dash that allows me to directly connect that battery to the house bank when I need additional power for thrusting. The switch is normally on the off position allowing the battery to be maintained by the echo charger. However… when lots of thrusting is required… I can with the push of a switch combine the house and thruster battery for that extra push.

    Echo chargers are quite inexpensive and as stated before require the same chemistry batteries for both start and house. Not usually a problem since IMHO its always good t have the same chemistry through the boat.

    Take care.

    –luis

  17. Luis Soltero Luis Soltero says:

    Hi Ben,

    Not too familiar with the Balmar DDC.

    • Luis Soltero Luis Soltero says:

      The echo charger does have a charge curve based on voltage differential that tries to keep the aux battery from being over charged.

      might be interesting to look at the graph on page 9 of the manual…

      http://www.xantrex.com/documents/Accessories/Auxiliary-Battery-Charger/Echo-charge-OwnerGuide(445-0204-01-01).pdf

      The echo chargers were originally created by heat interface then acquired by xantrex. Its ancient technology. I am sure others have probably created a better mouse trap since then.

      I will take a look at the Balmar and maybe switch to them for future installs.

      take care.

      –luis

      • Ben Ellison Ben Ellison says:

        Hmmm…funny that our Echo manual links don’t work unless cut and pasted. At any rate, Xantrex terms the Echo charge a “voltage follower” and says that when using it with a source other than their Freedom Charger it “will follow the charge stages of the source.”

        I think that’s essentially true of all the VSR, ACR, DDC, combiner type DC-DC solutions, while true DC-DC chargers like the new Victron Orion-Tr Smart and others can provide multi-stage charging specific to the target batteries regardless of what’s happening with the source batteries. It’s a confusing area!

        • Colin A says:

          To me the advantage of the echo charger is it’s current limiting with out shutting off. So if you have a really long wire run from one set of batteries to another it allows you to still get charging from the main bank with smaller wire sizes then you can typically get away with on a combiner. So you can keep charging the thruster or windlass banks at 15 amps with 10AWG wire for example.

          On an interesting note the Yandina combiner relies party on wire size to limit the current (voltage drop).

  18. Luis Soltero Luis Soltero says:

    I think the take way from the power curve on Page 9 is that when the voltage differential is small the current output drops off dramatically. So… indeed the these are voltage followers.

    As you know we monitor everything on bliss. What I have noticed is that when we run the engine the engine instrument panel draws current from the starter battery which lowers its voltage. So… i never see 14V on the starter battery even when we are in absorbtion mode on the main bank. In any even the device does a nice job keeping the battery charged but never over charged.

    So as long as the battery chemistry is the same for both banks you are good. The DC-DC chargers being more intelligent would allow for differing chemistry which is good.

    We are going to Gels on Bliss this year… it would be better if the starter Battery were AGM since this chemistry has more cranking amps… But since we have echo chargers we will be using a larger Gel for starting that normally would be required.

    Anyway… bottom line… charging a big bank with alternators and syphoning off current for the aux batteries is the right way to go. It looks like any of the devices listed above will do the job nicely.

    Take care.

    –luis

    • Grant Jenkins says:

      Luis, I think you’re missing a central point here – intelligent DC-DC chargers are not just intended to enable different battery chemistries. If your house bank is heavily discharged, an alternator is going to be applying a bulk charge to that bank. Connecting that to a fully charged start or auxiliary battery, even of the same type, by using a simple VSR or “echo charger”, is going to apply the same charge profile to the other batteries – which is obviously not ideal. Will it “work” ? Sure, but it’s not ideal for the long term health of the associated battery. There’s a reason that intelligent DC-DC chargers were developed, and it’s not just about chemistry….

  19. Donald Joyce says:

    Hello Ben,

    Very interesting discussion. On Cats Meow we run two 24V alternators charging 10 8D Gels and via a Sterling battery to battery charger to charge an additional 2 8D batteries at 12V. We use Balmar regulators with a Centerfielder that we have fine tuned to the batteries. We also use the Victron 12V to 12V converters to “condition” multiple NMEA 2K power drops along our backbone. When at anchor we run our generators and charge batteries through MasterVolt MASS chargers. The Mass chargers are settable only with dip switches. It would be great if they had an option for fine tuning charging parameters. We do not use our MasterVolt inverters for charging. We cruise over 5K nm each year and have found the Sterling Power unit to be very reliable and have learned to carry several spares for the Victron units. In the past 10 years we have replaced one MasterVolt Mass 100 charger and one MasterVolt Combi 24/5000 inverter.

    • Ben Ellison Ben Ellison says:

      Thanks, Don. You cover the waterfront in more ways than one!

      Interestingly, the Nov. Trade Only includes a two-page Power Products ad about how new CZone and Mastervolt products will fully integrate using NMEA 2000. It looks like there will be new versions of Mastervolt CombiMaster, ChargeMaster Plus, Smart Remote, Mastershunt 500 and even the Lithium batteries, all with N2K. I don’t see anything about this online yet, but I think that all will be revealed at METS.

    • Luis Soltero Luis Soltero says:

      Hi Don,

      Wow… I thought I had a complex charging setup. My hat is off to you for getting your system configured and running smoothly.

      Here is a nice description of my setup.
      https://www.panbo.com/bliss-100hp-diesel-powers-trawler-seakeeper-and-huge-battery-bank/

      Like you I have a centerfielder II (CFII) and I have to say that I really dislike the thing. It does not work well for me for the following reasons.

      1. On low sense voltage it disconnects the alternators. I run 2 alternators on one engine. When the batteries are low and I am motoring in small engine mode the low sense voltage is common. This causes the CFII to disengage causing the port alternator to race up to full output. The battery then climbs, the CFII then engages, the port alternator drops its current, the voltage drops, the alternator then races etc… in a loop. Solution for me is to turn off the port alternator so no biggie but its irritating.

      2. the dash lamps on the voltage regulators cause the CFII to disconnect the alternators. The dash lamps come on for a variety of reasons. When connected to the CFII this cause the CFII to disengage when you might not want them to. Solution. Run the dash lamps directly from the regulators to the dash bypassing the CFII. irritating but manageable.

      3. when engaged the CFII uses the sbd alternator field for both alternators. The max output from a balmar MC614 regulator is 15 amps. My alternators have a max of 8 amps each. This means when running full out the max draw is 16 which could cause an internal fuse to blow on the mc614. For alternators that draw more than 7 amps this is an issue. I run the belt manager on the mc614 to reduce output to prevent an overload. This seems to be working with 500 hours on the CFII now in this configuration.

      4. But the thing that really gets me is that my systems load when steaming (when running washers, water makers, stabilizers, all the electronics, etc) is much different than when at anchor just charging the batteries. The issue is that the balmars regulators use % field current in their algorithms to trigger the different changing modes. The triggers are different based on whether you are steaming or at anchor and also the RPM you run your engine. Like you I have spent an extensive time tuning the regulators. I have my system tuned for steaming (where 150 amps goes to the house and the rest goes to the batteries) with poor optimization for at anchor charging.

      Because of this I have decided to ditch the MC614 and the CFII and moving to 2x wakespeed WS500s. Not sure if your CFII causes you as much pain as mine but if it does you might want to consider WS500s. Here is a blurb I wrote about them a few months ago that might be helpful.

      http://www.wakespeed.com

      —-

      Most/All multi-stage alternator regulators on the market use % field current and battery voltage and temperature as
      inputs for their muti-step regulation algorithms. So you set a % field value (65% is the default for blamar) and once
      the regulator outputs less than this percent in field current at the trigger voltage the regulator then moves from the
      absorption to float mode. The problem with this approach is that when running with heavy loads (i.e. the SK5 running
      on a long passage draws 150Amps DC continously) this threshold is never met and the batteries are over charged.

      So… to deal with the over charging I have had to adjust the % threshold upwards (currently 75%) and for multi-day
      passages move the absorption to float trigger voltage down to 13.8V for my AGM batteries. this way the batteries charge
      between 13.4-13.8V for days on end.

      The problem is that when at anchor for extended periods of time you sometimes need to charge the batteries from the main
      engine (generator gone as you know). So under these conditions the above settings just don’t work. Since the SK5 is
      not running the % threshold is met very quickly and the regulator drops down to float voltage too soon providing
      inadequate charging for the large battery bank. At anchor what you need is a profile that has a low % threshold and
      high absorption voltage trigger to efficiently charge the batteries minimizing the engine run time and maximizing the
      high output from your big alternators.

      so two profiles are needed. One for steaming and one for at anchor. There are no regulators on the market that provide
      this dual profile setup.

      But… although 2 profiles would be nice % field output is still not ideal since the cutoff is depended on the RPM of
      the engine. At high RPM less field is needed to output the same current from the alternator than a low RPM. so…
      given that the alternators regulators don’t monitor engine RPM as an input for their computations this adds to the
      problem.

      And… if you have 2 alternators charging one large battery bank the problem is exasperated by wanting to have exactly
      the same field values going to both alternators so that one alternator does not work harder than the other.

      Currently in the market place there is only one regulator that intelligently address all of these problems. The
      Wakefield WS500.

      Unlike everything else out there these regulators use current through a shunt to monitor the exact current being fed
      into the battery bank. They do not use % field for their charging computations. They know exactly what current is
      being fed to the batteries and use this along with battery temperature and voltage to regulate the alternator output.

      Additionally one or more WS500 can be connected together with a can bus. When in this situation the units will
      negotiate a master slave relationship allowing one regulator (the master) to control the field output for the slave
      units. There is failover capability so if the master were to fail for some reason the slave units would negotiate for a
      new master and continue offering uninterrupted service.

      The maximum field current from a WS500 is 30amps. When running in master slave mode each WS500 provides the same field current (but independently) to their respective alternators which means that there is little chance of drawing too much current from the regulator regardless of the alternator.

      The WS500 also has a stator input that can be used to regulate output as a function of RPM. This is nice for smaller
      engines with larger alternators since the field output can be dampened when at low rpm to prevent engine stall out or
      sluggishness. This feature has been used on a 9hp engine with a 150amp alternator as an example.

      —-

      For my setup one WS500 would work. The field can be split and sent to each alternator. 30amps is more than enough to push both of my alternators. However, i really like the idea of having a backup and the ability to completely disable one alternator If needing the HP on my small engine. So… i am going with 2 in master/slave mode.

      Take care.

      –luis

  20. Tentime Tentime says:

    Just saw this blog post and this may be a good solution for the system I’m planning. I currently have an outboard powered boat. It’s a small planing boat but I use it more like a cruising boat. So a LiFePO4 house bank is very appealing for reasons of size and weight, and also because I can only fit 200 watts of solar so avoiding hours of absorption charging would be a plus.

    Smaller (115 hp in my case) outboards don’t have alternators, they have a regulator/rectifier type setup (not as robust). Mine puts out about 35 amps.. Another issue with outboards is that there is just one pair of wires coming out. In other words you cannot separate charging and starting.

    So the main challenges I see involve those two wires.

    1) To charge the Lithium house bank without straining the weakfish/smallish “alternator”

    2) To deal with the fact that outboards tend to put out higher voltage (sometimes up to 15 volts, IIRC).

    3) If one wants to be able to emergency parallel for starting now you have a load on wires that are normally a charge source (as seen by the house bank).

    I had been looking at Victron’s Buck Boost as it allows limiting charge amps and conditioning voltage. But you only get to choose one voltage, plus it’s fairly expensive ($500) because it has other fancy features aimed at Mercedes Sprinters and etc.

    This looks like it would allow me to limit amps (by virtue of buying, say, the 18 amp one), and also condition the voltage. PLUS it has more than one charging stage. Also it is less expensive.

    (Issue 3 wouldn’t be solved by this but probably by an emergency switch position.)

    So thanks for bringing this to my attention! I had looked at the previous non-Smart version, but that only had one voltage, not “stages” you could set.

    Tentime

  1. October 21, 2019

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